As women, most of us will face a fair few inevitabilities throughout our lives. We will have periods, we will face street harassment, we will be asked why we are single – as if the decision is some how an indication of our womanhood, once in a relationship we will be grilled by nosy friends and family on when we will start having children, and then, eventually, we will go through menopause. Menopause! That magical time in a woman’s life where external temperatures don’t matter and our personal humidity will alter weather patterns. Pretty rad, right, ladies? Maybe not for long. Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey has declared that science will end the perfectly natural human process of menopause within the next two decades.
The science that de Grey is talking about is stem cell research. With advances in this field, new regenerative therapies will allow women to extend their fertile years. The ability to grow organs such as ovaries will allow women to conceive and give birth to children at any age. After all, at it’s base level of simplicity, the ovary is an organ, and if scientists can make artificial hearts for people who need replacements, they will surely be able to apply the technology to reproductive organs.
In some ways, biologists are already making headway. While some fertility experts are hesitant to back de Grey’s bold statement, they have confirmed that there has been substantial progress in understanding female fertility and how it relates to the aging process. Edinburgh University biologist Evelyn Telfer and her team have been researching various treatments for premature menopause – menopause that is typically triggered by illness, medical treatment, or genetic abnormality. Her team has established that a woman’s eggs can be safely removed and matured outside of the human body. This procedure will be a gift of fertility to young women undergoing cancer treatments.
Menopause is like that bender your last weekend of college, right before you finally graduate – only imagine if it took you 35+ years to graduate. For some, it is a welcome end to a lifetime of hormonal fluctuations that resulted in pain, stress, and ravenous hunger. For others, it signifies the end of an era, perhaps a time in their lives they will look back on fondly. My concern is that if this technology becomes readily available, what will it mean for those of us who don’t have children and don’t want any? As it stands, we live in a society where a significant portion of a womanhood is based on her fertility. If de Grey and company get this going, is there going to be an added element of pressure on child-less women? Will society pressure women to take advantage of this technology, simply because it exists? There are an awful lot of questions that won’t be answered until we open this Pandora’s uterus of life-long fertility.